Part 2 out of 6
crimson peak above; my imagination was with the refulgent
firmament beyond, and I thought nothing of the stones turning
under my feet, or of the thorns scratching my face and hands.
I gazed often, and always with delight, from the window of the
diligence (these, be it remembered, were not the days of trains
and railroads). Well! and what did I see? I will tell you
faithfully. Green, reedy swamps; fields fertile but flat,
cultivated in patches that made them look like magnified
kitchen-gardens; belts of cut trees, formal as pollard willows,
skirting the horizon; narrow canals, gliding slow by the
road-side; painted Flemish farmhouses; some very dirty hovels; a
gray, dead sky; wet road, wet fields, wet house-tops: not a
beautiful, scarcely a picturesque object met my eye along the
whole route; yet to me, all was beautiful, all was more than
picturesque. It continued fair so long as daylight lasted,
though the moisture of many preceding damp days had sodden the
whole country; as it grew dark, however, the rain recommenced,
and it was through streaming and starless darkness my eye caught
the first gleam of the lights of Brussels. I saw little of the
city but its lights that night. Having alighted from the
diligence, a fiacre conveyed me to the Hotel de ----, where I had
been advised by a fellow-traveller to put up; having eaten a
traveller's supper, I retired to bed, and slept a traveller's
Next morning I awoke from prolonged and sound repose with the
impression that I was yet in X----, and perceiving it to be
broad daylight I started up, imagining that I had overslept
myself and should be behind time at the counting-house. The
momentary and painful sense of restraint vanished before the
revived and reviving consciousness of freedom, as, throwing back
the white curtains of my bed, I looked forth into a wide, lofty
foreign chamber; how different from the small and dingy, though
not uncomfortable, apartment I had occupied for a night or two at
a respectable inn in London while waiting for the sailing of the
packet! Yet far be it from me to profane the memory of that
little dingy room! It, too, is dear to my soul; for there, as I
lay in quiet and darkness, I first heard the great bell of St.
Paul's telling London it was midnight, and well do I recall the
deep, deliberate tones, so full charged with colossal phlegm and
force. From the small, narrow window of that room, I first saw
THE dome, looming through a London mist. I suppose the
sensations, stirred by those first sounds, first sights, are felt
but once; treasure them, Memory; seal them in urns, and keep them
in safe niches! Well--I rose. Travellers talk of the apartments
in foreign dwellings being bare and uncomfortable; I thought my
chamber looked stately and cheerful. It had such large windows
--CROISEES that opened like doors, with such broad, clear panes
of glass; such a great looking-glass stood on my dressing-table
--such a fine mirror glittered over the mantelpiece--the painted
floor looked so clean and glossy; when I had dressed and was
descending the stairs, the broad marble steps almost awed me, and
so did the lofty hall into which they conducted. On the first
landing I met a Flemish housemaid: she had wooden shoes, a short
red petticoat, a printed cotton bedgown, her face was broad, her
physiognomy eminently stupid; when I spoke to her in French, she
answered me in Flemish, with an air the reverse of civil; yet I
thought her charming; if she was not pretty or polite, she was, I
conceived, very picturesque; she reminded me of the female
figures in certain Dutch paintings I had seen in other years at
I repaired to the public room; that, too, was very large and very
lofty, and warmed by a stove; the floor was black, and the stove
was black, and most of the furniture was black: yet I never
experienced a freer sense of exhilaration than when I sat down at
a very long, black table (covered, however, in part by a white
cloth), and, having ordered breakfast, began to pour out my
coffee from a little black coffee-pot. The stove might be
dismal-looking to some eyes, not to mine, but it was indisputably
very warm, and there were two gentlemen seated by it talking in
French; impossible to follow their rapid utterance, or comprehend
much of the purport of what they said--yet French, in the mouths
of Frenchmen, or Belgians (I was not then sensible of the horrors
of the Belgian accent) was as music to my ears. One of these
gentlemen presently discerned me to be an Englishman--no doubt
from the fashion in which I addressed the waiter; for I would
persist in speaking French in my execrable South-of-England
style, though the man understood English. The gentleman, after
looking towards me once or twice, politely accosted me in very
good English; I remember I wished to God that I could speak
French as well; his fluency and correct pronunciation impressed
me for the first time with a due notion of the cosmopolitan
character of the capital I was in; it was my first experience of
that skill in living languages I afterwards found to be so
general in Brussels.
I lingered over my breakfast as long as I could; while it was
there on the table, and while that stranger continued talking to
me, I was a free, independent traveller; but at last the things
were removed, the two gentlemen left the room; suddenly the
illusion ceased, reality and business came back. I, a bondsman
just released from the yoke, freed for one week from twenty-one
years of constraint, must, of necessity, resume the fetters of
dependency. Hardly had I tasted the delight of being without a
master when duty issued her stern mandate: "Go forth and seek
another service." I never linger over a painful and necessary
task; I never take pleasure before business, it is not in my
nature to do so; impossible to enjoy a leisurely walk over the
city, though I perceived the morning was very fine, until I had
first presented Mr. Hunsden's letter of introduction, and got
fairly on to the track of a new situation. Wrenching my mind
from liberty and delight, I seized my hat, and forced my
reluctant body out of the Hotel de ---- into the foreign street.
It was a fine day, but I would not look at the blue sky or at the
stately houses round me; my mind was bent on one thing, finding
out "Mr. Brown, Numero --, Rue Royale," for so my letter was
addressed. By dint of inquiry I succeeded; I stood at last at
the desired door, knocked, asked for Mr. Brown, and was admitted.
Being shown into a small breakfast-room, I found myself in the
presence of an elderly gentleman--very grave, business-like, and
respectable-looking. I presented Mr. Hunsden's letter; he
received me very civilly. After a little desultory conversation
he asked me if there was anything in which his advice or
experience could be of use. I said, " Yes," and then proceeded to
tell him that I was not a gentleman of fortune, travelling for
pleasure, but an ex-counting-house clerk, who wanted employment
of some kind, and that immediately too. He replied that as a
friend of Mr. Hunsden's he would be willing to assist me as well
as he could. After some meditation he named a place in a
mercantile house at Liege, and another in a bookseller's shop at
"Clerk and shopman!" murmured I to myself. "No." I shook my
head. I had tried the high stool; I hated it; I believed there
were other occupations that would suit me better; besides I did
not wish to leave Brussels.
"I know of no place in Brussels," answered Mr. Brown, "unless
indeed you were disposed to turn your attention to teaching. I
am acquainted with the director of a large establishment who is
in want of a professor of English and Latin."
I thought two minutes, then I seized the idea eagerly.
"The very thing, sir!" said I.
"But," asked he, "do you understand French well enough to teach
Belgian boys English?"
Fortunately I could answer this question in the affirmative;
having studied French under a Frenchman, I could speak the
language intelligibly though not fluently. I could also read it
well, and write it decently.
"Then," pursued Mr. Brown, "I think I can promise you the place,
for Monsieur Pelet will not refuse a professor recommended by me;
but come here again at five o'clock this afternoon, and I will
introduce you to him."
The word "professor" struck me. "I am not a professor," said I.
"Oh," returned Mr. Brown, "professor, here in Belgium, means a
teacher, that is all."
My conscience thus quieted, I thanked Mr. Brown, and, for the
present, withdrew. This time I stepped out into the street with
a relieved heart; the task I had imposed on myself for that day
was executed. I might now take some hours of holiday. I felt
free to look up. For the first time I remarked the sparkling
clearness of the air, the deep blue of the sky, the gay clean
aspect of the white-washed or painted houses; I saw what a fine
street was the Rue Royale, and, walking leisurely along its broad
pavement, I continued to survey its stately hotels, till the
palisades, the gates, and trees of the park appearing in sight,
offered to my eye a new attraction. I remember, before entering
the park, I stood awhile to contemplate the statue of General
Belliard, and then I advanced to the top of the great staircase
just beyond, and I looked down into a narrow back street, which I
afterwards learnt was called the Rue d'Isabelle. I well
recollect that my eye rested on the green door of a rather large
house opposite, where, on a brass plate, was inscribed,
"Pensionnat de Demoiselles." Pensionnat! The word excited an
uneasy sensation in my mind; it seemed to speak of restraint.
Some of the demoiselles, externats no doubt, were at that moment
issuing from the door--I looked for a pretty face amongst them,
but their close, little French bonnets hid their features; in a
moment they were gone.
I had traversed a good deal of Brussels before five o'clock
arrived, but punctually as that hour struck I was again in the
Rue Royale. Re-admitted to Mr. Brown's breakfast-room, I found
him, as before, seated at the table, and he was not alone--a
gentleman stood by the hearth. Two words of introduction
designated him as my future master. "M. Pelet, Mr. Crimsworth;
Mr. Crimsworth, M. Pelet" a bow on each side finished the
ceremony. I don't know what sort of a bow I made; an ordinary
one, I suppose, for I was in a tranquil, commonplace frame of
mind; I felt none of the agitation which had troubled my first
interview with Edward Crimsworth. M. Pelet's bow was extremely
polite, yet not theatrical, scarcely French; he and I were
presently seated opposite to each other. In a pleasing voice,
low, and, out of consideration to my foreign ears, very distinct
and deliberate, M. Pelet intimated that he had just been
receiving from "le respectable M. Brown," an account of my
attainments and character, which relieved him from all scruple as
to the propriety of engaging me as professor of English and Latin
in his establishment; nevertheless, for form's sake, he would put
a few questions to test; my powers. He did, and expressed in
flattering terms his satisfaction at my answers. The subject of
salary next came on; it was fixed at one thousand francs per
annum, besides board and lodging. "And in addition," suggested M.
Pelet, "as there will be some hours in each day during which
your services will not be required in my establishment, you may,
in time, obtain employment in other seminaries, and thus turn
your vacant moments to profitable account."
I thought this very kind, and indeed I found afterwards that the
terms on which M. Pelet had engaged me were really liberal for
Brussels; instruction being extremely cheap there on account of
the number of teachers. It was further arranged that I should be
installed in my new post the very next day, after which M. Pelet
and I parted.
Well, and what was he like? and what were my impressions
concerning him? He was a man of about forty years of age, of
middle size, and rather emaciated figure; his face was pale, his
cheeks were sunk, and his eyes hollow; his features were pleasing
and regular, they had a French turn (for M. Pelet was no Fleming,
but a Frenchman both by birth and parentage), yet the degree of
harshness inseparable from Gallic lineaments was, in his case,
softened by a mild blue eye, and a melancholy, almost suffering,
expression of countenance; his physiognomy was "fine et
spirituelle." I use two French words because they define better
than any English terms the species of intelligence with which his
features were imbued. He was altogether an interesting and
prepossessing personage. I wondered only at the utter absence of
all the ordinary characteristics of his profession, and almost
feared he could not be stern and resolute enough for a
schoolmaster. Externally at least M. Pelet presented an absolute
contrast to my late master, Edward Crimsworth.
Influenced by the impression I had received of his gentleness, I
was a good deal surprised when, on arriving the next day at my
new employer's house, and being admitted to a first view of what
was to be the sphere of my future labours, namely the large,
lofty, and well lighted schoolrooms, I beheld a numerous
assemblage of pupils, boys of course, whose collective appearance
showed all the signs of a full, flourishing, and well-disciplined
seminary. As I traversed the classes in company with M. Pelet, a
profound silence reigned on all sides, and if by chance a murmur
or a whisper arose, one glance from the pensive eye of this most
gentle pedagogue stilled it instantly. It was astonishing, I
thought, how so mild a check could prove so effectual. When I
had perambulated the length and breadth of the classes, M. Pelet
turned and said to me--
"Would you object to taking the boys as they are, and testing
their proficiency in English?"
The proposal was unexpected. I had thought I should have been
allowed at least 3 days to prepare; but it is a bad omen to
commence any career by hesitation, so I just stepped to the
professor's desk near which we stood, and faced the circle of my
pupils. I took a moment to collect my thoughts, and likewise to
frame in French the sentence by which I proposed to open
business. I made it as short as possible:--
"Messieurs, prenez vos livres de lecture."
"Anglais ou Francais, monsieur?" demanded a thickset, moon-faced
young Flamand in a blouse. The answer was fortunately easy:--
I determined to give myself as little trouble as possible in this
lesson; it would not do yet to trust my unpractised tongue with
the delivery of explanations; my accent and idiom would be too
open to the criticisms of the young gentlemen before me, relative
to whom I felt already it would be necessary at once to take up
an advantageous position, and I proceeded to employ means
"Commencez!" cried I, when they had all produced their books.
The moon-faced youth (by name Jules Vanderkelkov, as I afterwards
learnt) took the first sentence. The "livre de lecture" was the
"Vicar of Wakefield," much used in foreign schools because it is
supposed to contain prime samples of conversational English; it
might, however, have been a Runic scroll for any resemblance the
words, as enunciated by Jules, bore to the language in ordinary
use amongst the natives of Great Britain. My God! how he did
snuffle, snort, and wheeze! All he said was said in his throat
and nose, for it is thus the Flamands speak, but I heard him to
the end of his paragraph without proffering a word of correction,
whereat he looked vastly self-complacent, convinced, no doubt,
that he had acquitted himself like a real born and bred
"Anglais." In the same unmoved silence I listened to a dozen in
rotation, and when the twelfth had concluded with splutter, hiss,
and mumble, I solemnly laid down the book.
"Arretez!" said I. There was a pause, during which I regarded
them all with a steady and somewhat stern gaze; a dog, if stared
at hard enough and long enough, will show symptoms of
embarrassment, and so at length did my bench of Belgians.
Perceiving that some of the faces before me were beginning to
look sullen, and others ashamed, I slowly joined my hands, and
ejaculated in a deep "voix de poitrine"--
"Comme c'est affreux!"
They looked at each other, pouted, coloured, swung their heels;
they were not pleased, I saw, but they were impressed, and in the
way I wished them to be. Having thus taken them down a peg in
their self-conceit, the next step was to raise myself in their
estimation; not a very easy thing, considering that I hardly
dared to speak for fear of betraying my own deficiencies.
"Ecoutez, messieurs!" said I, and I endeavoured to throw into my
accents the compassionate tone of a superior being, who, touched
by the extremity of the helplessness, which at first only excited
his scorn, deigns at length to bestow aid. I then began at the
very beginning of the "Vicar of Wakefield," and read, in a slow,
distinct voice, some twenty pages, they all the while sitting
mute and listening with fixed attention; by the time I had done
nearly an hour had elapsed. I then rose and said:--
"C'est assez pour aujourd'hui, messieurs; demain nous
recommencerons, et j'espere que tout ira bien."
With this oracular sentence I bowed, and in company with M. Pelet
quitted the school-room.
"C'est bien! c'est tres bien!" said my principal as we entered
his parlour. "Je vois que monsieur a de l'adresse; cela, me
plait, car, dans l'instruction, l'adresse fait tout autant que le
>From the parlour M. Pelet conducted me to my apartment, my
"chambre," as Monsieur said with a certain air of complacency.
It was a very small room, with an excessively small bed, but M.
Pelet gave me to understand that I was to occupy it quite alone,
which was of course a great comfort. Yet, though so limited in
dimensions, it had two windows. Light not being taxed in
Belgium, the people never grudge its admission into their houses;
just here, however, this observation is not very APROPOS, for one
of these windows was boarded up; the open windows looked into the
boys' playground. I glanced at the other, as wondering what
aspect it would present if disencumbered of the boards. M. Pelet
read, I suppose, the expression of my eye; he explained:--
"La fenetre fermee donne sur un jardin appartenant a un
pensionnat de demoiselles," said he, "et les convenances exigent
--enfin, vous comprenez--n'est-ce pas, monsieur?"
"Oui, oui," was my reply, and I looked of course quite satisfied;
but when M. Pelet had retired and closed the door after him, the
first thing I did was to scrutinize closely the nailed boards,
hoping to find some chink or crevice which I might enlarge, and
so get a peep at the consecrated ground. My researches were
vain, for the boards were well joined and strongly nailed. It is
astonishing how disappointed I felt. I thought it would have
been so pleasant to have looked out upon a garden planted with
flowers and trees, so amusing to have watched the demoiselles at
their play; to have studied female character in a variety of
phases, myself the while sheltered from view by a modest muslin
curtain, whereas, owing doubtless to the absurd scruples of some
old duenna of a directress, I had now only the option of looking
at a bare gravelled court, with an enormous "pas de geant" in the
middle, and the monotonous walls and windows of a boys'
school-house round. Not only then, but many a time after,
especially in moments of weariness and low spirits, did I look
with dissatisfied eyes on that most tantalizing board, longing to
tear it away and get a glimpse of the green region which I
imagined to lie beyond. I knew a tree grew close up to the
window, for though there were as yet no leaves to rustle, I often
heard at night the tapping of branches against the panes. In the
daytime, when I listened attentively, I could hear, even through
the boards, the voices of the demoiselles in their hours of
recreation, and, to speak the honest truth, my sentimental
reflections were occasionally a trifle disarranged by the not
quite silvery, in fact the too often brazen sounds, which, rising
from the unseen paradise below, penetrated clamorously into my
solitude. Not to mince matters, it really seemed to me a
doubtful case whether the lungs of Mdlle. Reuter's girls or those
of M. Pelet's boys were the strongest, and when it came to
shrieking the girls indisputably beat the boys hollow. I forgot
to say, by-the-by, that Reuter was the name of the old lady who
had had my window bearded up. I say old, for such I, of course,
concluded her to be, judging from her cautious, chaperon-like
proceedings; besides, nobody ever spoke of her as young. I
remember I was very much amused when I first heard her Christian
name; it was Zoraide--Mademoiselle Zoraide Reuter. But the
continental nations do allow themselves vagaries in the choice of
names, such as we sober English never run into. I think, indeed,
we have too limited a list to choose from.
Meantime my path was gradually growing smooth before me. I, in a
few weeks, conquered the teasing difficulties inseparable from
the commencement of almost every career. Ere long I had acquired
as much facility in speaking French as set me at my ease with my
pupils; and as I had encountered them on a right footing at the
very beginning, and continued tenaciously to retain the advantage
I had early gained, they never attempted mutiny, which
circumstance, all who are in any degree acquainted with the
ongoings of Belgian schools, and who know the relation in which
professors and pupils too frequently stand towards each other in
those establishments, will consider an important and uncommon
one. Before concluding this chapter I will say a word on the
system I pursued with regard to my classes: my experience may
possibly be of use to others.
It did not require very keen observation to detect the character
of the youth of Brabant, but it needed a certain degree of tact
to adopt one's measures to their capacity. Their intellectual
faculties were generally weak, their animal propensities strong;
thus there was at once an impotence and a kind of inert force in
their natures; they were dull, but they were also singularly
stubborn, heavy as lead and, like lead, most difficult to move.
Such being the case, it would have been truly absurd to exact
from them much in the way of mental exertion; having short
memories, dense intelligence, feeble reflective powers, they
recoiled with repugnance from any occupation that demanded close
study or deep thought. Had the abhorred effort been extorted
from them by injudicious and arbitrary measures on the part of
the Professor, they would have resisted as obstinately, as
clamorously, as desperate swine; and though not brave singly,
they were relentless acting EN MASSE.
I understood that before my arrival in M. Pelet's establishment,
the combined insubordination of the pupils had effected the
dismissal of more than one English master. It was necessary then
to exact only the most moderate application from natures so
little qualified to apply--to assist, in every practicable way,
understandings so opaque and contracted--to be ever gentle,
considerate, yielding even, to a certain point, with dispositions
so irrationally perverse; but, having reached that culminating
point of indulgence, you must fix your foot, plant it, root it in
rock--become immutable as the towers of Ste. Gudule; for a step
--but half a step farther, and you would plunge headlong into the
gulf of imbecility; there lodged, you would speedily receive
proofs of Flemish gratitude and magnanimity in showers of Brabant
saliva and handfuls of Low Country mud. You might smooth to the
utmost the path of learning, remove every pebble from the track;
but then you must finally insist with decision on the pupil
taking your arm and allowing himself to be led quietly along the
prepared road. When I had brought down my lesson to the lowest
level of my dullest pupil's capacity--when I had shown myself the
mildest, the most tolerant of masters--a word of impertinence, a
movement of disobedience, changed me at once into a despot. I
offered then but one alternative--submission and acknowledgment
of error, or ignominious expulsion. This system answered, and my
influence, by degrees, became established on a firm basis. "The
boy is father to the man," it is said; and so I often thought
when looked at my boys and remembered the political history of
their ancestors. Pelet's school was merely an epitome of the
AND Pelet himself? How did I continue to like him? Oh,
extremely well! Nothing could be more smooth, gentlemanlike,
and even friendly, than his demeanour to me. I had to endure
from him neither cold neglect, irritating interference, nor
pretentious assumption of superiority. I fear, however, two
poor, hard-worked Belgian ushers in the establishment could not
have said as much; to them the director's manner was invariably
dry, stern, and cool. I believe he perceived once or twice that
I was a little shocked at the difference he made between them and
me, and accounted for it by saying, with a quiet sarcastic
"Ce ne sont que des Flamands--allez!"
And then he took his cigar gently from his lips and spat on the
painted floor of the room in which we were sitting. Flamands
certainly they were, and both had the true Flamand physiognomy,
where intellectual inferiority is marked in lines none can
mistake; still they were men, and, in the main, honest men; and I
could not see why their being aboriginals of the flat, dull soil
should serve as a pretext for treating them with perpetual
severity and contempt. This idea, of injustice somewhat poisoned
the pleasure I might otherwise have derived from Pelet's soft
affable manner to myself. Certainly it was agreeable, when the
day's work was over, to find one's employer an intelligent and
cheerful companion; and if he was sometimes a little sarcastic
and sometimes a little too insinuating, and if I did discover
that his mildness was more a matter of appearance than of
reality--if I did occasionally suspect the existence of flint or
steel under an external covering of velvet--still we are none of
us perfect; and weary as I was of the atmosphere of brutality and
insolence in which I had constantly lived at X----, I had no
inclination now, on casting anchor in calmer regions, to
institute at once a prying search after defects that were
scrupulously withdrawn and carefully veiled from my view. I was
willing to take Pelet for what he seemed--to believe him
benevolent and friendly until some untoward event should prove
him otherwise. He was not married, and I soon perceived he had
all a Frenchman's, all a Parisian's notions about matrimony and
women. I suspected a degree of laxity in his code of morals,
there was something so cold and BLASE in his tone whenever he
alluded to what he called "le beau sexe;" but he was too
gentlemanlike to intrude topics I did not invite, and as he was
really intelligent and really fond of intellectual subjects of
discourse, he and I always found enough to talk about, without
seeking themes in the mire. I hated his fashion of mentioning
love; I abhorred, from my soul, mere licentiousness. He felt the
difference of our notions, and, by mutual consent, we kept off
Pelet's house was kept and his kitchen managed by his mother, a
real old Frenchwoman; she had been handsome--at least she told me
so, and I strove to believe her; she was now ugly, as only
continental old women can be; perhaps, though, her style of dress
made her look uglier than she really was. Indoors she would go
about without cap, her grey hair strangely dishevelled; then,
when at home, she seldom wore a gown--only a shabby cotton
camisole; shoes, too, were strangers to her feet, and in lieu of
them she sported roomy slippers, trodden down at the heels. On
the other hand, whenever it was her pleasure to appear abroad, as
on Sundays and fete-days, she would put on some very
brilliant-coloured dress, usually of thin texture, a silk bonnet
with a wreath of flowers, and a very fine shawl. She was not, in
the main, an ill-natured old woman, but an incessant and most
indiscreet talker; she kept chiefly in and about the kitchen, and
seemed rather to avoid her son's august presence; of him, indeed,
she evidently stood in awe. When he reproved her, his reproofs
were bitter and unsparing; but he seldom gave himself that
Madame Pelet had her own society, her own circle of chosen
visitors, whom, however, I seldom saw, as she generally
entertained them in what she called her "cabinet," a small den of
a place adjoining the kitchen, and descending into it by one or
two steps. On these steps, by-the-by, I have not unfrequently
seen Madame Pelet seated with a trencher on her knee, engaged in
the threefold employment of eating her dinner, gossiping with her
favourite servant, the housemaid, and scolding her antagonist,
the cook; she never dined, and seldom indeed took any meal with
her son; and as to showing her face at the boys' table, that was
quite out of the question. These details will sound very odd in
English ears, but Belgium is not England, and its ways are not
Madame Pelet's habits of life, then, being taken into
consideration, I was a good deal surprised when, one Thursday
evening (Thursday was always a half-holiday), as I was sitting
all alone in my apartment, correcting a huge pile of English and
Latin exercises, a servant tapped at the door, and, on its being
opened, presented Madame Pelet's compliments, and she would be
happy to see me to take my "gouter" (a meal which answers to our
English "tea") with her in the dining-room.
"Plait-il?" said I, for I thought I must have misunderstood, the
message and invitation were so unusual; the same words were
repeated. I accepted, of course, and as I descended the stairs,
I wondered what whim had entered the old lady's brain; her son
was out--gone to pass the evening at the Salle of the Grande
Harmonie or some other club of which he was a member. Just as I
laid my hand on the handle of the dining-room door, a queer idea
glanced across my mind.
"Surely she's not going to make love to me," said I. "I've heard
of old Frenchwomen doing odd things in that line; and the gouter?
They generally begin such affairs with eating and drinking, I
There was a fearful dismay in this suggestion of my excited
imagination, and if I had allowed myself time to dwell upon it, I
should no doubt have cut there and then, rushed back to my
chamber, and bolted myself in; but whenever a danger or a horror
is veiled with uncertainty, the primary wish of the mind is to
ascertain first the naked truth, reserving the expedient of
flight for the moment when its dread anticipation shall be
realized. I turned the door-handle, and in an instant had
crossed the fatal threshold, closed the door behind me, and stood
in the presence of Madame Pelet.
Gracious heavens! The first view of her seemed to confirm my
worst apprehensions. There she sat, dressed out in a light green
muslin gown, on her head a lace cap with flourishing red roses in
the frill; her table was carefully spread; there were fruit,
cakes, and coffee, with a bottle of something--I did not know
what. Already the cold sweat started on my brow, already I
glanced back over my shoulder at the closed door, when, to my
unspeakable relief, my eye, wandering mildly in the direction of
the stove, rested upon a second figure, seated in a large
fauteuil beside it. This was a woman, too, and, moreover, an old
woman, and as fat and as rubicund as Madame Pelet was meagre and
yellow; her attire was likewise very fine, and spring flowers of
different hues circled in a bright wreath the crown of her
violet-coloured velvet bonnet.
I had only time to make these general observations when Madame
Pelet, coming forward with what she intended should be a graceful
and elastic step, thus accosted me:-
"Monsieur is indeed most obliging to quit his books, his studies,
at the request of an insignificant person like me--will Monsieur
complete his kindness by allowing me to present him to my dear
friend Madame Reuter, who resides in the neighbouring house--the
young ladies' school."
"Ah!" thought I, "I knew she was old," and I bowed and took my
seat. Madame Reuter placed herself at the table opposite to me.
"How do you like Belgium, Monsieur?" asked she, in an accent of
the broadest Bruxellois. I could now well distinguish the
difference between the fine and pure Parisian utterance of M.
Pelet, for instance, and the guttural enunciation of the
Flamands. I answered politely, and then wondered how so coarse
and clumsy an old woman as the one before me should be at the
head of a ladies' seminary, which I had always heard spoken of in
terms of high commendation. In truth there was something to
wonder at. Madame Reuter looked more like a joyous, free-living
old Flemish fermiere, or even a maitresse d'auberge, than a
staid, grave, rigid directrice de pensionnat. In general the
continental, or at least the Belgian old women permit themselves
a licence of manners, speech, and aspect, such as our venerable
granddames would recoil from as absolutely disreputable, and
Madame Reuter's jolly face bore evidence that she was no
exception to the rule of her country; there was a twinkle and
leer in her left eye; her right she kept habitually half shut,
which I thought very odd indeed. After several vain attempts to
comprehend the motives of these two droll old creatures for
inviting me to join them at their gouter, I at last fairly gave
it up, and resigning myself to inevitable mystification, I sat
and looked first at one, then at the other, taking care meantime
to do justice to the confitures, cakes, and coffee, with which
they amply supplied me. They, too, ate, and that with no
delicate appetite, and having demolished a large portion of the
solids, they proposed a "petit verre." I declined. Not so
Mesdames Pelet and Reuter; each mixed herself what I thought
rather a stiff tumbler of punch, and placing it on a stand near
the stove, they drew up their chairs to that convenience, and
invited me to do the same. I obeyed; and being seated fairly
between them, I was thus addressed first by Madame Pelet, then by
"We will now speak of business," said Madame Pelet, and she went
on to make an elaborate speech, which, being interpreted, was to
the effect that she had asked for the pleasure of my company that
evening in order to give her friend Madame Reuter an opportunity
of broaching an important proposal, which might turn out greatly
to my advantage.
"Pourvu que vous soyez sage," said Madame Reuter, "et a vrai
dire, vous en avez bien l'air. Take one drop of the punch" (or
ponche, as she pronounced it); "it is an agreeable and wholesome
beverage after a full meal."
I bowed, but again declined it. She went on:-
"I feel," said she, after a solemn sip--"I feel profoundly the
importance of the commission with which my dear daughter has
entrusted me, for you are aware, Monsieur, that it is my daughter
who directs the establishment in the next house?"
"Ah! I thought it was yourself, madame." Though, indeed, at that
moment I recollected that it was called Mademoiselle, not Madame
"I! Oh, no! I manage the house and look after the servants, as
my friend Madame Pelet does for Monsieur her son--nothing more.
Ah! you thought I gave lessons in class--did you?"
And she laughed loud and long, as though the idea tickled her
"Madame is in the wrong to laugh," I observed; "if she does not
give lessons, I am sure it is not because she cannot;" and I
whipped out a white pocket-handkerchief and wafted it, with a
French grace, past my nose, bowing at the name time.
"Quel charmant jeune homme!" murmured Madame Pelet in a low
voice. Madame Reuter, being less sentimental, as she was Flamand
and not French, only laughed again.
"You are a dangerous person, I fear," said she; "if you can forge
compliments at that rate, Zoraide will positively be afraid of
you; but if you are good, I will keep your secret, and not tell
her how well you can flatter. Now, listen what sort of a
proposal she makes to you. She has heard that you are an
excellent professor, and as she wishes to get the very beet
masters for her school (car Zoraide fait tout comme une reine,
c'est une veritable maitresse-femme), she has commissioned me to
step over this afternoon, and sound Madame Pelet as to the
possibility of engaging you. Zoraide is a wary general; she never
advances without first examining well her ground I don't think
she would be pleased if she knew I had already disclosed her
intentions to you; she did not order me to go so far, but I
thought there would be no harm in letting you into the secret,
and Madame Pelet was of the same opinion. Take care, however,
you don't betray either of us to Zoraide--to my daughter, I mean;
she is so discreet and circumspect herself, she cannot understand
that one should find a pleasure in gossiping a little--"
"C'est absolument comme mon fils!" cried Madame Pelet.
"All the world is so changed since our girlhood!" rejoined the
other: "young people have such old heads now. But to return,
Monsieur. Madame Pelet will mention the subject of your giving
lessons in my daughter's establishment to her son, and he will
speak to you; and then to-morrow, you will step over to our
house, and ask to see my daughter, and you will introduce the
subject as if the first intimation of it had reached you from M.
Pelet himself, and be sure you never mention my name, for I would
not displease Zoraide on any account.
"Bien! bien!" interrupted I--for all this chatter and
circumlocution began to bore me very much; "I will consult M.
Pelet, and the thing shall be settled as you desire. Good
evening, mesdames--I am infinitely obliged to you."
"Comment! vous vous en allez deja?" exclaimed Madame Pelet.
"Prenez encore quelquechose, monsieur; une pomme cuite, des
biscuits, encore une tasse de cafe?"
"Merci, merci, madame--au revoir." And I backed at last out of
Having regained my own room, I set myself to turn over in my mind
the incident of the evening. It seemed a queer affair
altogether, and queerly managed; the two old women had made quite
a little intricate mess of it; still I found that the uppermost
feeling in my mind on the subject was one of satisfaction. In
the first place it would be a change to give lessons in another
seminary, and then to teach young ladies would be an occupation
so interesting--to be admitted at all into a ladies'
boarding-school would be an incident so new in my life. Besides,
thought I, as I glanced at the boarded window, "I shall now at
last see the mysterious garden: I shall gaze both on the angels
and their Eden."
M. PELET could not of course object to the proposal made by
Mdlle. Reuter; permission to accept such additional employment,
should it offer, having formed an article of the terms on which
he had engaged me. It was, therefore, arranged in the course of
next day that I should be at liberty to give lessons in Mdlle.
Reuter's establishment four afternoons in every week.
When evening came I prepared to step over in order to seek a
conference with Mademoiselle herself on the subject; I had not
had time to pay the visit before, having been all day closely
occupied in class. I remember very well that before quitting my
chamber, I held a brief debate with myself as to whether I should
change my ordinary attire for something smarter. At last I
concluded it would be a waste of labour. "Doubtless," thought I,
"she is some stiff old maid; for though the daughter of Madame
Reuter, she may well number upwards of forty winters; besides, if
it were otherwise, if she be both young and pretty, I am not
handsome, and no dressing can make me so, therefore I'll go as I
am." And off I started, cursorily glancing sideways as I passed
the toilet-table, surmounted by a looking-glass: a thin
irregular face I saw, with sunk, dark eyes under a large, square
forehead, complexion destitute of bloom or attraction; something
young, but not youthful, no object to win a lady's love, no butt
for the shafts of Cupid.
I was soon at the entrance of the pensionnat, in a moment I had
pulled the bell; in another moment the door was opened, and
within appeared a passage paved alternately with black and white
marble; the walls were painted in imitation of marble also; and
at the far end opened a glass door, through which I saw shrubs
and a grass-plat, looking pleasant in the sunshine of the mild
spring evening-for it was now the middle of April.
This, then, was my first glimpse of the garden; but I had not
time to look long, the portress, after having answered in the
affirmative my question as to whether her mistress was at home,
opened the folding-doors of a room to the left, and having
ushered me in, closed them behind me. I found myself in a salon
with a very well-painted, highly varnished floor; chairs and
sofas covered with white draperies, a green porcelain stove,
walls hung with pictures in gilt frames, a gilt pendule and other
ornaments on the mantelpiece, a large lustre pendent from the
centre of the ceiling, mirrors, consoles, muslin curtains, and a
handsome centre table completed the inventory of furniture. All
looked extremely clean and glittering, but the general effect
would have been somewhat chilling had not a second large pair of
folding-doors, standing wide open, and disclosing another and
smaller salon, more snugly furnished, offered some relief to the
eye. This room was carpeted, and therein was a piano, a couch,
a chiffonniere--above all, it contained a lofty window with a
crimson curtain, which, being undrawn, afforded another glimpse
of the garden, through the large, clear panes, round which some
leaves of ivy, some tendrils of vine were trained
"Monsieur Creemsvort, n'est ce pas?" said a voice behind me; and,
starting involuntarily, I turned. I had been so taken up with
the contemplation of the pretty little salon that I had not
noticed the entrance of a person into the larger room. It was,
however, Mdlle. Reuter who now addressed me, and stood close
beside me; and when I had bowed with instantaneously recovered
sang-froid--for I am not easily embarrassed--I commenced the
conversation by remarking on the pleasant aspect of her little
cabinet, and the advantage she had over M. Pelet in possessing a
"Yes," she said, "she often thought so;" and added, "it is my
garden, monsieur, which makes me retain this house, otherwise I
should probably have removed to larger and more commodious
premises long since; but you see I could not take my garden with
me, and I should scarcely find one so large and pleasant anywhere
else in town."
I approved her judgment.
"But you have not seen it yet," said she, rising; "come to the
window and take a better view." I followed her; she opened the
sash, and leaning out I saw in full the enclosed demesne which
had hitherto been to me an unknown region. It was a long, not
very broad strip of cultured ground, with an alley bordered by
enormous old fruit trees down the middle; there was a sort of
lawn, a parterre of rose-trees, some flower-borders, and, on the
far side, a thickly planted copse of lilacs, laburnums, and
acacias. It looked pleasant, to me--very pleasant, so long a
time had elapsed since I had seen a garden of any sort. But it
was not only on Mdlle. Reuter's garden that my eyes dwelt; when
I had taken a view of her well-trimmed beds and budding
shrubberies, I allowed my glance to come back to herself, nor did
I hastily withdraw it.
I had thought to see a tall, meagre, yellow, conventual image in
black, with a close white cap, bandaged under the chin like a
nun's head-gear; whereas, there stood by me a little and roundly
formed woman, who might indeed be older than I, but was still
young; she could not, I thought, be more than six or seven and
twenty; she was as fair as a fair Englishwoman; she had no cap;
her hair was nut-brown, and she wore it in curls; pretty her
features were not, nor very soft, nor very regular, but neither
were they in any degree plain, and I already saw cause to deem
them expressive. What was their predominant cast? Was it
sagacity?--sense? Yes, I thought so; but I could scarcely as yet
be sure. I discovered, however, that there was a certain
serenity of eye, and freshness of complexion, most pleasing to
behold. The colour on her cheek was like the bloom on a good
apple, which is as sound at the core as it is red on the rind.
Mdlle. Reuter and I entered upon business. She said she was not
absolutely certain of the wisdom of the step she was about to
take, because I was so young, and parents might possibly object
to a professor like me for their daughters: "But it is often
well to act on one's own judgment," said she, "and to lead
parents, rather than be led by them. The fitness of a professor
is not a matter of age; and, from what I have heard, and from
what I observe myself, I would much rather trust you than M.
Ledru, the music-master, who is a married man of near fifty."
I remarked that I hoped she would find me worthy of her good
opinion; that if I knew myself, I was incapable of betraying any
confidence reposed in me. "Du reste," said she, "the
surveillance will be strictly attended to." And then she
proceeded to discuss the subject of terms. She was very cautious,
quite on her guard; she did not absolutely bargain, but she
warily sounded me to find out what my expectations might be; and
when she could not get me to name a sum, she reasoned and
reasoned with a fluent yet quiet circumlocution of speech, and at
last nailed me down to five hundred francs per annum--not too
much, but I agreed. Before the negotiation was completed, it
began to grow a little dusk. I did not hasten it, for I liked
well enough to sit and hear her talk; I was amused with the sort
of business talent she displayed. Edward could not have shown
himself more practical, though he might have evinced more
coarseness and urgency; and then she had so many reasons, so many
explanations; and, after all, she succeeded in proving herself
quite disinterested and even liberal. At last she concluded, she
could say no more, because, as I acquiesced in all things, there
was no further ground for the exercise of her parts of speech. I
was obliged to rise. I would rather have sat a little longer;
what had I to return to but my small empty room? And my eyes had
a pleasure in looking at Mdlle. Reuter, especially now, when the
twilight softened her features a little, and, in the doubtful
dusk, I could fancy her forehead as open as it was really
elevated, her mouth touched with turns of sweetness as well as
defined in lines of sense. When I rose to go, I held out my hand,
on purpose, though I knew it was contrary to the etiquette of
foreign habits; she smiled, and said--
"Ah! c'est comme tous les Anglais," but gave me her hand very
"It is the privilege of my country, Mademoiselle," said I; "and,
remember, I shall always claim it."
She laughed a little, quite good-naturedly, and with the sort of
tranquillity obvious in all she did--a tranquillity which soothed
and suited me singularly, at least I thought so that evening.
Brussels seemed a very pleasant place to me when I got out again
into the street, and it appeared as if some cheerful, eventful,
upward-tending career were even then opening to me, on that
selfsame mild, still April night. So impressionable a being is
man, or at least such a man as I was in those days.
NEXT day the morning hours seemed to pass very slowly at M.
Pelet's; I wanted the afternoon to come that I might go again to
the neighbouring pensionnat and give my first lesson within its
pleasant precincts; for pleasant they appeared to me. At noon
the hour of recreation arrived; at one o'clock we had lunch; this
got on the time, and at last St. Gudule's deep bell, tolling
slowly two, marked the moment for which I had been waiting.
At the foot of the narrow back-stairs that descended from my
room, I met M. Pelet.
"Comme vous avez l'air rayonnant!" said he. "Je ne vous ai
jamais vu aussi gai. Que s'est-il donc passe?"
"Apparemment que j'aime les changements," replied I.
"Ah! je comprends--c'est cela-soyez sage seulement. Vous etes
bien jeune--trop jeune pour le role que vous allez jouer; il faut
"Mais quel danger y a-t-il?"
"Je n'en sais rien--ne vous laissez pas aller a de vives
I laughed: a sentiment of exquisite pleasure played over my
nerves at the thought that "vives impressions" were likely to be
created; it was the deadness, the sameness of life's daily
ongoings that had hitherto been my bane; my blouse-clad "eleves"
in the boys' seminary never stirred in me any "vives impressions"
except it might be occasionally some of anger. I broke from M.
Pelet, and as I strode down the passage he followed me with one
of his laughs--a very French, rakish, mocking sound.
Again I stood at the neighbouring door, and soon was re-admitted
into the cheerful passage with its clear dove-colour imitation
marble walls. I followed the portress, and descending a step,
and making a turn, I found myself in a sort of corridor; a
side-door opened, Mdlle. Reuter's little figure, as graceful as
it was plump, appeared. I could now see her dress in full
daylight; a neat, simple mousseline-laine gown fitted her compact
round shape to perfection--delicate little collar and manchettes
of lace, trim Parisian brodequins showed her neck, wrists, and
feet, to complete advantage; but how grave was her face as she
came suddenly upon me! Solicitude and business were in her eye
--on her forehead; she looked almost stern. Her "Bon jour,
monsieur," was quite polite, but so orderly, so commonplace, it
spread directly a cool, damp towel over my "vives impressions."
The servant turned back when her mistress appeared, and I walked
slowly along the corridor, side by side with Mdlle. Reuter.
"Monsieur will give a lesson in the first class to-day," said
she; "dictation or reading will perhaps be the best thing to
begin with, for those are the easiest forms of communicating
instruction in a foreign language; and, at the first, a master
naturally feels a little unsettled."
She was quite right, as I had found from experience; it only
remained for me to acquiesce. We proceeded now in silence. The
corridor terminated in a hall, large, lofty, and square; a glass
door on one side showed within a long narrow refectory, with
tables, an armoire, and two lamps; it was empty; large glass
doors, in front, opened on the playground and garden; a broad
staircase ascended spirally on the opposite side; the remaining
wall showed a pair of great folding-doors, now closed, and
admitting: doubtless, to the classes.
Mdlle. Reuter turned her eye laterally on me, to ascertain,
probably, whether I was collected enough to be ushered into her
sanctum sanctorum. I suppose she judged me to be in a tolerable
state of self-government, for she opened the door, and I followed
her through. A rustling sound of uprising greeted our entrance;
without looking to the right or left, I walked straight up the
lane between two sets of benches and desks, and took possession
of the empty chair and isolated desk raised on an estrade, of one
step high, so as to command one division; the other division
being under the surveillance of a maitresse similarly elevated.
At the back of the estrade, and attached to a moveable partition
dividing this schoolroom from another beyond, was a large tableau
of wood painted black and varnished; a thick crayon of white
chalk lay on my desk for the convenience of elucidating any
grammatical or verbal obscurity which might occur in my lessons
by writing it upon the tableau; a wet sponge appeared beside the
chalk, to enable me to efface the marks when they had served the
I carefully and deliberately made these observations before
allowing myself to take one glance at the benches before me;
having handled the crayon, looked back at the tableau, fingered
the sponge in order to ascertain that it was in a right state of
moisture, I found myself cool enough to admit of looking calmly
up and gazing deliberately round me.
And first I observed that Mdlle. Reuter had already glided away,
she was nowhere visible; a maitresse or teacher, the one who
occupied the corresponding estrade to my own, alone remained to
keep guard over me; she was a little in the shade, and, with my
short sight, I could only see that she was of a thin bony figure
and rather tallowy complexion, and that her attitude, as she sat,
partook equally of listlessness and affectation. More obvious,
more prominent, shone on by the full light of the large window,
were the occupants of the benches just before me, of whom some
were girls of fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, some young women from
eighteen (as it appeared to me) up to twenty; the most modest
attire, the simplest fashion of wearing the hair, were apparent
in all; and good features, ruddy, blooming complexions, large and
brilliant eyes, forms full, even to solidity, seemed to abound.
I did not bear the first view like a stoic; I was dazzled, my
eyes fell, and in a voice somewhat too low I murmured--
"Prenez vos cahiers de dictee, mesdemoiselles."
Not so had I bid the boys at Pelet's take their reading-books. A
rustle followed, and an opening of desks; behind the lifted lids
which momentarily screened the heads bent down to search for
exercise-books, I heard tittering and whispers.
"Eulalie, je suis prete a pamer de rire," observed one.
"Comme il a rougi en parlant!"
"Oui, c'est un veritable blanc-bec."
"Tais-toi, Hortense--il nous ecoute."
And now the lids sank and the heads reappeared; I had marked
three, the whisperers, and I did not scruple to take a very
steady look at them as they emerged from their temporary eclipse.
It is astonishing what ease and courage their little phrases of
flippancy had given me; the idea by which I had been awed was
that the youthful beings before me, with their dark nun-like
robes and softly braided hair, were a kind of half-angels. The
light titter, the giddy whisper, had already in some measure
relieved my mind of that fond and oppressive fancy.
The three I allude to were just in front, within half a yard of
my estrade, and were among the most womanly-looking present.
Their names I knew afterwards, and may as well mention now; they
were Eulalie, Hortense, Caroline. Eulalie was tall, and very
finely shaped: she was fair, and her features were those of a
Low Country Madonna; many a "figure de Vierge" have I seen in
Dutch pictures exactly resembling hers; there were no angles in
her shape or in her face, all was curve and roundness--neither
thought, sentiment, nor passion disturbed by line or flush the
equality of her pale, clear skin; her noble bust heaved with her
regular breathing, her eyes moved a little--by these evidences of
life alone could I have distinguished her from some large
handsome figure moulded in wax. Hortense was of middle size and
stout, her form was ungraceful, her face striking, more alive and
brilliant than Eulalie's, her hair was dark brown, her complexion
richly coloured; there were frolic and mischief in her eye:
consistency and good sense she might possess, but none of her
features betokened those qualities.
Caroline was little, though evidently full grown; raven-black
hair, very dark eyes, absolutely regular features, with a
colourless olive complexion, clear as to the face and sallow
about the neck, formed in her that assemblage of points whose
union many persons regard as the perfection of beauty. How, with
the tintless pallor of her skin and the classic straightness of
her lineaments, she managed to look sensual, I don't know. I
think her lips and eyes contrived the affair between them, and
the result left no uncertainty on the beholder's mind. She was
sensual now, and in ten years' time she would be coarse--promise
plain was written in her face of much future folly.
If I looked at these girls with little scruple, they looked at me
with still less. Eulalie raised her unmoved eye to mine, and
seemed to expect, passively but securely, an impromptu tribute to
her majestic charms. Hortense regarded me boldly, and giggled at
the same time, while she said, with an air of impudent freedom--
"Dictez-nous quelquechose de facile pour commencer, monsieur."
Caroline shook her loose ringlets of abundant but somewhat coarse
hair over her rolling black eyes; parting her lips, as full as
those of a hot-blooded Maroon, she showed her well-set teeth
sparkling between them, and treated me at the same time to a
smile "de sa facon." Beautiful as Pauline Borghese, she looked at
the moment scarcely purer than Lucrece de Borgia. Caroline was
of noble family. I heard her lady-mother's character afterwards,
and then I ceased to wonder at the precocious accomplishments of
the daughter. These three, I at once saw, deemed themselves the
queens of the school, and conceived that by their splendour they
threw all the rest into the shade. In less than five minutes
they had thus revealed to me their characters, and in less than
five minutes I had buckled on a breast-plate of steely
indifference, and let down a visor of impassible austerity.
"Take your pens and commence writing," said I, in as dry and
trite a voice as if I had been addressing only Jules Vanderkelkov
The dictee now commenced. My three belles interrupted me
perpetually with little silly questions and uncalled-for remarks,
to some of which I made no answer, and to others replied very
quietly and briefly. "Comment dit-on point et virgule en Anglais,
"Semi-collong? Ah, comme c'est drole!" (giggle.)
"J'ai une si mauvaise plume--impossible d'ecrire!"
"Mais, monsieur--je ne sais pas suivre--vous allez si vite."
"Je n'ai rien compris, moi!"
Here a general murmur arose, and the teacher, opening her lips
for the first time, ejaculated--
No silence followed--on the contrary, the three ladies in front
began to talk more loudly.
"C'est si difficile, l'Anglais!"
"Je deteste la dictee."
"Quel ennui d'ecrire quelquechose que l'on ne comprend pas!"
Some of those behind laughed: a degree of confusion began to
pervade the class; it was necessary to take prompt measures.
"Donnez-moi votre cahier," said I to Eulalie in an abrupt tone;
and bending over, I took it before she had time to give it.
"Et vous, mademoiselle-donnez-moi le votre," continued I, more
mildly, addressing a little pale, plain looking girl who sat in
the first row of the other division, and whom I had remarked as
being at once the ugliest and the most attentive in the room; she
rose up, walked over to me, and delivered her book with a grave,
modest curtsey. I glanced over the two dictations; Eulalie's was
slurred, blotted, and full of silly mistakes--Sylvie's (such was
the name of the ugly little girl) was clearly written, it
contained no error against sense, and but few faults of
orthography. I coolly read aloud both exercises, marking the
faults--then I looked at Eulalie:
"C'est honteux!" said I, and I deliberately tore her dictation
in four parts, and presented her with the fragments. I returned
Sylvie her book with a smile, saying--
"C'est bien--je suis content de vous."
Sylvie looked calmly pleased, Eulalie swelled like an incensed
turkey, but the mutiny was quelled: the conceited coquetry and
futile flirtation of the first bench were exchanged for a
taciturn sullenness, much more convenient to me, and the rest of
my lesson passed without interruption.
A bell clanging out in the yard announced the moment for the
cessation of school labours. I heard our own bell at the same
time, and that of a certain public college immediately after.
Order dissolved instantly; up started every pupil, I hastened to
seize my hat, bow to the maitresse, and quit the room before the
tide of externats should pour from the inner class, where I knew
near a hundred were prisoned, and whose rising tumult I already
I had scarcely crossed the hall and gained the corridor, when
Mdlle. Reuter came again upon me.
"Step in here a moment," said she, and she held open the door of
the side room from whence she had issued on my arrival; it was a
SALLE-A-MANGER, as appeared from the beaufet and the armoire
vitree, filled with glass and china, which formed part of its
furniture. Ere she had closed the door on me and herself, the
corridor was already filled with day-pupils, tearing down their
cloaks, bonnets, and cabas from the wooden pegs on which they
were suspended; the shrill voice of a maitresse was heard at
intervals vainly endeavouring to enforce some sort of order;
vainly, I say: discipline there was none in these rough ranks,
and yet this was considered one of the best-conducted schools in
"Well, you have given your first lesson," began Mdlle. Reuter in
the most calm, equable voice, as though quite unconscious of the
chaos from which we were separated only by a single wall.
"Were you satisfied with your pupils, or did any circumstance in
their conduct give you cause for complaint? Conceal nothing from
me, repose in me entire confidence."
Happily, I felt in myself complete power to manage my pupils
without aid; the enchantment, the golden haze which had dazzled
my perspicuity at first, had been a good deal dissipated. I
cannot say I was chagrined or downcast by the contrast which the
reality of a pensionnat de demoiselles presented to my vague
ideal of the same community; I was only enlightened and amused;
consequently, I felt in no disposition to complain to Mdlle.
Reuter, and I received her considerate invitation to confidence
with a smile.
"A thousand thanks, mademoiselle, all has gone very smoothly."
She looked more than doubtful.
"Et les trois demoiselles du premier banc?" said she.
"Ah! tout va au mieux!" was my answer, and Mdlle. Reuter ceased
to question me; but her eye--not large, not brilliant, not
melting, or kindling, but astute, penetrating, practical, showed
she was even with me; it let out a momentary gleam, which said
plainly, "Be as close as you like, I am not dependent on your
candour; what you would conceal I already know."
By a transition so quiet as to be scarcely perceptible, the
directress's manner changed; the anxious business-air passed from
her face, and she began chatting about the weather and the town,
and asking in neighbourly wise after M. and Madame Pelet. I
answered all her little questions; she prolonged her talk, I went
on following its many little windings; she sat so long, said so
much, varied so often the topics of discourse, that it was not
difficult to perceive she had a particular aim in thus detaining
me. Her mere words could have afforded no clue to this aim, but
her countenance aided; while her lips uttered only affable
commonplaces, her eyes reverted continually to my face. Her
glances were not given in full, but out of the corners, so
quietly, so stealthily, yet I think I lost not one. I watched
her as keenly as she watched me; I perceived soon that she was
feeling after my real character; she was searching for salient
points, and weak; points, and eccentric points; she was applying
now this test, now that, hoping in the end to find some chink,
some niche, where she could put in her little firm foot and stand
upon my neck--mistress of my nature, Do not mistake me, reader,
it was no amorous influence she wished to gain--at that time it
was only the power of the politician to which she aspired; I was
now installed as a professor in her establishment, and she wanted
to know where her mind was superior to mine--by what feeling or
opinion she could lead me.
I enjoyed the game much, and did not hasten its conclusion;
sometimes I gave her hopes, beginning a sentence rather weakly,
when her shrewd eye would light up--she thought she had me;
having led her a little way, I delighted to turn round and finish
with sound, hard sense, whereat her countenance would fall. At
last a servant entered to announce dinner; the conflict being
thus necessarily terminated, we parted without having gained any
advantage on either side: Mdlle. Reuter had not even given me an
opportunity of attacking her with feeling, and I had managed to
baffle her little schemes of craft. It was a regular drawn
battle. I again held out my hand when I left the room, she gave
me hers; it was a small and white hand, but how cool! I met her
eye too in full--obliging her to give me a straightforward look;
this last test went against me: it left her as it found her
--moderate, temperate, tranquil; me it disappointed.
"I am growing wiser," thought I, as I walked back to M. Pelet's.
"Look at this little woman; is she like the women of novelists
and romancers? To read of female character as depicted in Poetry
and Fiction, one would think it was made up of sentiment, either
for good or bad--here is a specimen, and a most sensible and
respectable specimen, too, whose staple ingredient is abstract
reason. No Talleyrand was ever more passionless than Zoraide
Reuter!" So I thought then; I found afterwards that blunt
susceptibilities are very consistent with strong propensities.
I HAD indeed had a very long talk with the crafty little
politician, and on regaining my quarters, I found that dinner was
half over. To be late at meals was against a standing rule of
the establishment, and had it been one of the Flemish ushers who
thus entered after the removal of the soup and the commencement
of the first course, M. Pelet would probably have greeted him
with a public rebuke, and would certainly have mulcted him both
of soup and fish; as it was, that polite though partial gentleman
only shook his head, and as I took my place, unrolled my napkin,
and said my heretical grace to myself, he civilly despatched a
servant to the kitchen, to bring me a plate of "puree aux
carottes" (for this was a maigre-day), and before sending away
the first course, reserved for me a portion of the stock-fish of
which it consisted. Dinner being over, the boys rushed out for
their evening play; Kint and Vandam (the two ushers) of course
followed them. Poor fellows! if they had not looked so very
heavy, so very soulless, so very indifferent to all things in
heaven above or in the earth beneath, I could have pitied them
greatly for the obligation they were under to trail after those
rough lads everywhere and at all times; even as it was, I felt
disposed to scout myself as a privileged prig when I turned to
ascend to my chamber, sure to find there, if not enjoyment, at
least liberty; but this evening (as had often happened before) I
was to be still farther distinguished.
"Eh bien, mauvais sujet!" said the voice of M. Pelet behind me,
as I set my foot on the first step of the stair, "ou allez-vous?
Venez a la salle-a-manger, que je vous gronde un peu."
"I beg pardon, monsieur," said I, as I followed him to his
private sitting-room, "for having returned so late--it was not
"That is just what I want to know," rejoined M. Pelet, as he
ushered me into the comfortable parlour with a good wood-fire
--for the stove had now been removed for the season. Having rung
the bell he ordered "Coffee for two," and presently he and I
were seated, almost in English comfort, one on each side of the
hearth, a little round table between us, with a coffee-pot, a
sugar-basin, and two large white china cups. While M. Pelet
employed himself in choosing a cigar from a box, my thoughts
reverted to the two outcast ushers, whose voices I could hear
even now crying hoarsely for order in the playground.
"C'est une grande responsabilite, que la surveillance," observed
"Plait-il?" dit M. Pelet.
I remarked that I thought Messieurs Vandam and Kint must
sometimes be a little fatigued with their labours.
"Des betes de somme,--des betes de somme," murmured scornfully
the director. Meantime I offered him his cup of coffee.
"Servez-vous mon garcon," said he blandly, when I had put a
couple of huge lumps of continental sugar into his cup. "And now
tell me why you stayed so long at Mdlle. Reuter's. I know that
lessons conclude, in her establishment as in mine, at four
o'clock, and when you returned it was past five."
"Mdlle. wished to speak with me, monsieur."
"Indeed! on what subject? if one may ask."
"Mademoiselle talked about nothing, monsieur."
"A fertile topic! and did she discourse thereon in the
schoolroom, before the pupils?"
"No; like you, monsieur, she asked me to walk into her parlour."
"And Madame Reuter--the old duenna--my mother's gossip, was
there, of course?"
"No, monsieur; I had the honour of being quite alone with
"C'est joli--cela," observed M. Pelet, and he smiled and looked
into the fire.
"Honi soit qui mal y pense," murmured I, significantly.
"Je connais un peu ma petite voisine--voyez-vous."
"In that case, monsieur will be able to aid me in finding out
what was mademoiselle's reason for making me sit before her sofa
one mortal hour, listening to the most copious and fluent
dissertation on the merest frivolities."
"She was sounding your character."
"I thought so, monsieur."
"Did she find out your weak point?"
"What is my weak point?"
"Why, the sentimental. Any woman sinking her shaft deep enough,
will at last reach a fathomless spring of sensibility in thy
I felt the blood stir about my heart and rise warm to my cheek.
"Some women might, monsieur."
"Is Mdlle. Reuter of the number? Come, speak frankly, mon fils;
elle est encore jeune, plus agee que toi peut-etre, mais juste
asset pour unir la tendresse d'une petite maman a l'amour d'une
epouse devouee; n'est-ce pas que cela t'irait superieurement?"
"No, monsieur; I should like my wife to be my wife, and not half
"She is then a little too old for you?"
"No, monsieur, not a day too old if she suited me in other
"In what does she not suit you, William? She is personally
agreeable, is she not?"
"Very; her hair and complexion are just what I admire; and her
turn of form, though quite Belgian, is full of grace."
"Bravo! and her face? her features? How do you like them?"
"A little harsh, especially her mouth."
"Ah, yes! her mouth," said M. Pelet, and he chuckled inwardly.
"There is character about her mouth--firmness--but she has a very
pleasant smile; don't you think so?"
"True, but that expression of craft is owing to her eyebrows;
have you remarked her eyebrows?"
I answered that I had not.
"You have not seen her looking down then?" said he.
"It is a treat, notwithstanding. Observe her when she has some
knitting, or some other woman's work in hand, and sits the image
of peace, calmly intent on her needles and her silk, some
discussion meantime going on around her, in the course of which
peculiarities of character are being developed, or important
interests canvassed; she takes no part in it; her humble,
feminine mind is wholly with her knitting; none of her features
move; she neither presumes to smile approval, nor frown
disapprobation; her little hands assiduously ply their
unpretending task; if she can only get this purse finished, or
this bonnet-grec completed, it is enough for her. If gentlemen
approach her chair, a deeper quiescence, a meeker modesty settles
on her features, and clothes her general mien; observe then her
eyebrows, et dites-moi s'il n'y a pas du chat dans l'un et du
renard dans l'autre."
"I will take careful notice the first opportunity," said I.
"And then," continued M. Pelet, "the eyelid will flicker, the
light-coloured lashes be lifted a second, and a blue eye,
glancing out from under the screen, will take its brief, sly,
searching survey, and retreat again."
I smiled, and so did Pelet, and after a few minutes' silence, I
"Will she ever marry, do you think?"
"Marry! Will birds pair? Of course it is both her intention and
resolution to marry when she finds a suitable match, and no one
is better aware than herself of the sort of impression she is
capable of producing; no one likes better to captivate in a quiet
way. I am mistaken if she will not yet leave the print of her
stealing steps on thy heart, Crimsworth."
"Of her steps? Confound it, no! My heart is not a plank to be
"But the soft touch of a patte de velours will do it no harm."
"She offers me no patte de velours; she is all form and reserve
"That to begin with; let respect be the foundation, affection the
first floor, love the superstructure; Mdlle. Reuter is a skilful
"And interest, M. Pelet--interest. Will not mademoiselle
consider that point ?"
"Yes, yes, no doubt; it will be the cement between every stone.
And now we have discussed the directress, what of the pupils?
N'y-a-t-il pas de belles etudes parmi ces jeunes tetes?"
"Studies of character? Yes; curious ones, at least, I imagine;
but one cannot divine much from a first interview."
"Ah, you affect discretion; but tell me now, were you not a
little abashed before these blooming young creatures?
"At first, yes; but I rallied and got through with all due
"I don't believe you."
"It is true, notwithstanding. At first I thought them angels,
but they did not leave me long under that delusion; three of the
eldest and handsomest undertook the task of setting me right, and
they managed so cleverly that in five minutes I knew them, at
least, for what they were--three arrant coquettes."
"Je les connais!" exclaimed M. Pelet. "Elles sont toujours au
premier rang a l'eglise et a la promenade; une blonde superbe,
une jolie espiegle, une belle brune."
"Lovely creatures all of them--heads for artists; what a group
they would make, taken together! Eulalie (I know their names),
with her smooth braided hair and calm ivory brow. Hortense, with
her rich chesnut locks so luxuriantly knotted, plaited, twisted,
as if she did not know how to dispose of all their abundance,
with her vermilion lips, damask cheek, and roguish laughing eye.
And Caroline de Blemont! Ah, there is beauty! beauty in
perfection. What a cloud of sable curls about the face of a
houri! What fascinating lips! What glorious black eyes! Your
Byron would have worshipped her, and you--you cold, frigid
islander!--you played the austere, the insensible in the presence
of an Aphrodite so exquisite?"
I might have laughed at the director's enthusiasm had I believed
it real, but there was something in his tone which indicated
got-up raptures. I felt he was only affecting fervour in order
to put me off my guard, to induce me to come out in return, so I
scarcely even smiled. He went on:-
"Confess, William, do not the mere good looks of Zoraide Reuter
appear dowdyish and commonplace compared with the splendid charms
of some of her pupils?"
The question discomposed me, but I now felt plainly that my
principal was endeavouring (for reasons best known to himself--at
that time I could not fathom them) to excite ideas and wishes in
my mind alien to what was right and honourable. The iniquity of
the instigation proved its antidote, and when he further added:--
"Each of those three beautiful girls will have a handsome
fortune; and with a little address, a gentlemanlike, intelligent
young fellow like you might make himself master of the hand,
heart, and purse of any one of the trio."
I replied by a look and an interrogative "Monsieur?" which
He laughed a forced laugh, affirmed that he had only been joking,
and demanded whether I could possibly have thought him in
earnest. Just then the bell rang; the play-hour was over; it was
an evening on which M. Pelet was accustomed to read passages from
the drama and the belles lettres to his pupils. He did not wait
for my answer, but rising, left the room, humming as he went some
gay strain of Beranger's.
DAILY, as I continued my attendance at the seminary of Mdlle.
Reuter, did I find fresh occasions to compare the ideal with the
real. What had I known of female character previously to my
arrival at Brussels? Precious little. And what was my notion of
it? Something vague, slight, gauzy, glittering; now when I came
in contact with it I found it to be a palpable substance enough;
very hard too sometimes, and often heavy; there was metal in it,
both lead and iron.
Let the idealists, the dreamers about earthly angel and human
flowers, just look here while I open my portfolio and show them a
sketch or two, pencilled after nature. I took these sketches in
the second-class schoolroom of Mdlle. Reuter's establishment,
where about a hundred specimens of the genus "jeune fille"
collected together, offered a fertile variety of subject. A
miscellaneous assortment they were, differing both in caste and
country; as I sat on my estrade and glanced over the long range
of desks, I had under my eye French, English, Belgians,
Austrians, and Prussians. The majority belonged to the class
bourgeois; but there were many countesses, there were the
daughters of two generals and of several colonels, captains, and
government EMPLOYES; these ladies sat side by side with young
females destined to be demoiselles de magasins, and with some
Flamandes, genuine aborigines of the country. In dress all were
nearly similar, and in manners there was small difference;
exceptions there were to the general rule, but the majority gave
the tone to the establishment, and that tone was rough,
boisterous, masked by a point-blank disregard of all forbearance
towards each other or their teachers; an eager pursuit by each
individual of her own interest and convenience; and a coarse
indifference to the interest and convenience of every one else.
Most of them could lie with audacity when it appeared
advantageous to do so. All understood the art of speaking fair
when a point was to be gained, and could with consummate skill
and at a moment's notice turn the cold shoulder the instant
civility ceased to be profitable. Very little open quarrelling
ever took place amongst them; but backbiting and talebearing were
universal. Close friendships were forbidden by the rules of the
school, and no one girl seemed to cultivate more regard for
another than was just necessary to secure a companion when
solitude would have been irksome. They were each and all
supposed to have been reared in utter unconsciousness of vice.
The precautions used to keep them ignorant, if not innocent, were
innumerable. How was it, then, that scarcely one of those girls
having attained the age of fourteen could look a man in the face
with modesty and propriety? An air of bold, impudent flirtation,
or a loose, silly leer, was sure to answer the most ordinary
glance from a masculine eye. I know nothing of the arcana of the
Roman Catholic religion, and I am not a bigot in matters of
theology, but I suspect the root of this precocious impurity, so
obvious, so general in Popish countries, is to be found in the
discipline, if not the doctrines of the Church of Rome. I record
what I have seen: these girls belonged to what are called the
respectable ranks of society; they had all been carefully brought
up, yet was the mass of them mentally depraved. So much for the
general view: now for one or two selected specimens.
The first picture is a full length of Aurelia Koslow, a German
fraulein, or rather a half-breed between German and Russian. She
is eighteen years of age, and has been sent to Brussels to finish
her education; she is of middle size, stiffly made, body long,
legs short, bust much developed but not compactly moulded, waist
disproportionately compressed by an inhumanly braced corset,
dress carefully arranged, large feet tortured into small
bottines, head small, hair smoothed, braided, oiled, and gummed
to perfection; very low forehead, very diminutive and vindictive
grey eyes, somewhat Tartar features, rather flat nose, rather
high-cheek bones, yet the ensemble not positively ugly; tolerably
good complexion. So much for person. As to mind, deplorably
ignorant and ill-informed: incapable of writing or speaking
correctly even German, her native tongue, a dunce in French, and
her attempts at learning English a mere farce, yet she has been
at school twelve years; but as she invariably gets her exercises,
of every description, done by a fellow pupil, and reads her
lessons off a book; concealed in her lap, it is not wonderful
that her progress has been so snail-like. I do not know what
Aurelia's daily habits of life are, because I have not the
opportunity of observing her at all times; but from what I see of
the state of her desk, books, and papers, I should say she is
slovenly and even dirty; her outward dress, as I have said, is
well attended to, but in passing behind her bench, I have
remarked that her neck is gray for want of washing, and her hair,
so glossy with gum and grease, is not such as one feels tempted
to pass the hand over, much less to run the fingers through.
Aurelia's conduct in class, at least when I am present, is
something extraordinary, considered as an index of girlish
innocence. The moment I enter the room, she nudges her next
neighbour and indulges in a half-suppressed laugh. As I take my
seat on the estrade, she fixes her eye on me; she seems resolved
to attract, and, if possible, monopolize my notice: to this end
she launches at me all sorts of looks, languishing, provoking,
leering, laughing. As I am found quite proof against this sort
of artillery--for we scorn what, unasked, is lavishly offered
--she has recourse to the expedient of making noises; sometimes
she sighs, sometimes groans, sometimes utters inarticulate
sounds, for which language has no name. If, in walking up the
schoolroom, I pass near her, she puts out her foot that it may
touch mine; if I do not happen to observe the manoeuvre, and my
boot comes in contact with her brodequin, she affects to fall
into convulsions of suppressed laughter; if I notice the snare
and avoid it, she expresses her mortification in sullen
muttering, where I hear myself abused in bad French, pronounced
with an intolerable Low German accent.
Not far from Mdlle. Koslow sits another young lady by name Adele
Dronsart: this is a Belgian, rather low of stature, in form
heavy, with broad waist, short neck and limbs, good red and white
complexion, features well chiselled and regular, well-cut eyes of
a clear brown colour, light brown hair, good teeth, age not much
above fifteen, but as full-grown as a stout young Englishwoman of
twenty. This portrait gives the idea of a somewhat dumpy but
good-looking damsel, does it not? Well, when I looked along the
row of young heads, my eye generally stopped at this of Adele's;
her gaze was ever waiting for mine, and it frequently succeeded
in arresting it. She was an unnatural-looking being--so young,
fresh, blooming, yet so Gorgon-like. Suspicion, sullen
ill-temper were on her forehead, vicious propensities in her eye,
envy and panther-like deceit about her mouth. In general she sat
very still; her massive shape looked as if it could not bend
much, nor did her large head--so broad at the base, so narrow
towards the top--seem made to turn readily on her short neck.
She had but two varieties of expression; the prevalent one a
forbidding, dissatisfied scowl, varied sometimes by a most
pernicious and perfidious smile. She was shunned by her
fellow-pupils, for, bad as many of them were, few were as bad as
Aurelia and Adele were in the first division of the second class;
the second division was headed by a pensionnaire named Juanna
Trista. This girl was of mixed Belgian and Spanish origin; her
Flemish mother was dead, her Catalonian father was a merchant
residing in the ---- Isles, where Juanna had been born and whence
she was sent to Europe to be educated. I wonder that any one,
looking at that girl's head and countenance, would have received
her under their roof. She had precisely the same shape of skull
as Pope Alexander the Sixth; her organs of benevolence,
veneration, conscientiousness, adhesiveness, were singularly
small, those of self-esteem, firmness, destructiveness,
combativeness, preposterously large; her head sloped up in the
penthouse shape, was contracted about the forehead, and prominent
behind; she had rather good, though large and marked features;
her temperament was fibrous and bilious, her complexion pale and
dark, hair and eyes black, form angular and rigid but
proportionate, age fifteen.
Juanna was not very thin, but she had a gaunt visage, and her
"regard" was fierce and hungry; narrow as was her brow, it
presented space enough for the legible graving of two words,
Mutiny and Hate; in some one of her other lineaments I think the
eye--cowardice had also its distinct cipher. Mdlle. Trista
thought fit to trouble my first lessons with a coarse work-day
sort of turbulence; she made noises with her mouth like a horse,
she ejected her saliva, she uttered brutal expressions; behind
and below her were seated a band of very vulgar, inferior-looking
Flamandes, including two or three examples of that deformity of
person and imbecility of intellect whose frequency in the Low
Countries would seem to furnish proof that the climate is such as
to induce degeneracy of the human mind and body; these, I soon
found, were completely under her influence, and with their aid
she got up and sustained a swinish tumult, which I was
constrained at last to quell by ordering her and two of her tools
to rise from their seats, and, having kept them standing five
minutes, turning them bodily out of the schoolroom: the
accomplices into a large place adjoining called the grands salle;
the principal into a cabinet, of which I closed the door and
pocketed the key. This judgment I executed in the presence of
Mdlle. Reuter, who looked much aghast at beholding so decided a
proceeding--the most severe that had ever been ventured on in her
establishment. Her look of affright I answered with one of
composure, and finally with a smile, which perhaps flattered, and
certainly soothed her. Juanna Trista remained in Europe long
enough to repay, by malevolence and ingratitude, all who had ever
done her a good turn; and she then went to join her father in the
---- Isles, exulting in the thought that she should there have
slaves, whom, as she said, she could kick and strike at will.
These three pictures are from the life. I possess others, as
marked and as little agreeable, but I will spare my reader the
exhibition of them.
Doubtless it will be thought that I ought now, by way of
contrast, to show something charming; some gentle virgin head,
circled with a halo, some sweet personification of innocence,
clasping the dove of peace to her bosom. No: I saw nothing of
the sort, and therefore cannot portray it. The pupil in the
school possessing the happiest disposition was a young girl from
the country, Louise Path; she was sufficiently benevolent and
obliging, but not well taught nor well mannered; moreover, the
plague-spot of dissimulation was in her also; honour and
principle were unknown to her, she had scarcely heard their
names. The least exceptionable pupil was the poor little Sylvie
I have mentioned once before. Sylvie was gentle in manners,
intelligent in mind; she was even sincere, as far as her religion
would permit her to be so, but her physical organization was
defective; weak health stunted her growth and chilled her
spirits, and then, destined as she was for the cloister, her
whole soul was warped to a conventual bias, and in the tame,
trained subjection of her manner, one read that she had already
prepared herself for her future course of life, by giving up her
independence of thought and action into the hands of some
despotic confessor. She permitted herself no original opinion,
no preference of companion or employment; in everything she was
guided by another. With a pale, passive, automaton air, she went
about all day long doing what she was bid; never what she liked,
or what, from innate conviction, she thought it right to do. The
poor little future religieuse had been early taught to make the
dictates of her own reason and conscience quite subordinate to
the will of her spiritual director. She was the model pupil of
Mdlle. Reuter's establishment; pale, blighted image, where life
lingered feebly, but whence the soul had been conjured by Romish
A few English pupils there were in this school, and these might
be divided into two classes. 1st. The continental English--the
daughters chiefly of broken adventurers, whom debt or dishonour
had driven from their own country. These poor girls had never
known the advantages of settled homes, decorous example, or
honest Protestant education; resident a few months now in one
Catholic school, now in another, as their parents wandered from
land to land--from France to Germany, from Germany to Belgium
--they had picked up some scanty instruction, many bad habits,
losing every notion even of the first elements of religion and
morals, and acquiring an imbecile indifference to every sentiment
that can elevate humanity; they were distinguishable by an
habitual look of sullen dejection, the result of crushed
self-respect and constant browbeating from their Popish
fellow-pupils, who hated them as English, and scorned them as
The second class were British English. Of these I did not
encounter half a dozen during the whole time of my attendance at
the seminary; their characteristics were clean but careless
dress, ill-arranged hair (compared with the tight and trim
foreigners), erect carriage, flexible figures, white and taper
hands, features more irregular, but also more intellectual than
those of the Belgians, grave and modest countenances, a general
air of native propriety and decency; by this last circumstance
alone I could at a glance distinguish the daughter of Albion and
nursling of Protestantism from the foster-child of Rome, the
PROTEGEE of Jesuistry: proud, too, was the aspect of these
British girls; at once envied and ridiculed by their continental
associates, they warded off insult with austere civility, and met
hate with mute disdain; they eschewed company-keeping, and in the
midst of numbers seemed to dwell isolated.
The teachers presiding over this mixed multitude were three in
number, all French--their names Mdlles. Zephyrine, Pelagie, and
Suzette; the two last were commonplace personages enough; their
look was ordinary, their manner was ordinary, their temper was
ordinary, their thoughts, feelings, and views were all ordinary
--were I to write a chapter on the subject I could not elucidate
it further. Zephyrine was somewhat more distinguished in
appearance and deportment than Pelagie and Suzette, but in
character genuine Parisian coquette, perfidious, mercenary, and
dry-hearted. A fourth maitresse I sometimes saw who seemed to
come daily to teach needlework, or netting, or lace-mending, or
some such flimsy art; but of her I never had more than a passing
glimpse, as she sat in the CARRE, with her frames and some dozen
of the elder pupils about her, consequently I had no opportunity
of studying her character, or even of observing her person much;
the latter, I remarked, had a very English air for a maitresse,
otherwise it was not striking; of character I should think; she
possessed but little, as her pupils seemed constantly "en
revolte" against her authority. She did not reside in the house;
her name, I think, was Mdlle. Henri.
Amidst this assemblage of all that was insignificant and
defective, much that was vicious and repulsive (by that last
epithet many would have described the two or three stiff, silent,
decently behaved, ill-dressed British girls), the sensible,
sagacious, affable directress shone like a steady star over a
marsh full of Jack-o'-lanthorns; profoundly aware of her
superiority, she derived an inward bliss from that consciousness
which sustained her under all the care and responsibility
inseparable from her position; it kept her temper calm, her brow
smooth, her manner tranquil. She liked--as who would not?--on
entering the school-room, to feel that her sole presence sufficed
to diffuse that order and quiet which all the remonstrances, and
even commands, of her underlings frequently failed to enforce;
she liked to stand in comparison, or rather--contrast, with those
who surrounded her, and to know that in personal as well as
mental advantages, she bore away the undisputed palm of
preference--(the three teachers were all plain.) Her pupils she
managed with such indulgence and address, taking always on
herself the office of recompenser and eulogist, and abandoning to
her subalterns every invidious task of blame and punishment, that
they all regarded her with deference, if not with affection; her
teachers did not love her, but they submitted because they were
her inferiors in everything; the various masters who attended her
school were each and all in some way or other under her
influence; over one she had acquired power by her skilful
management of his bad temper; over another by little attentions
to his petty caprices; a third she had subdued by flattery; a
fourth--a timid man--she kept in awe by a sort of austere
decision of mien; me, she still watched, still tried by the most
ingenious tests--she roved round me, baffled, yet persevering; I
believe she thought I was like a smooth and bare precipice, which
offered neither jutting stone nor tree-root, nor tuft of grass to
aid the climber. Now she flattered with exquisite tact, now she
moralized, now she tried how far I was accessible to mercenary
motives, then she disported on the brink of affection--knowing
that some men are won by weakness--anon, she talked excellent
sense, aware that others have the folly to admire judgment. I
found it at once pleasant and easy to evade all these efforts; it
was sweet, when she thought me nearly won, to turn round and to
smile in her very eyes, half scornfully, and then to witness her
scarcely veiled, though mute mortification. Still she
persevered, and at last, I am bound to confess it, her finger,
essaying, proving every atom of the casket, touched its secret
spring, and for a moment the lid sprung open; she laid her hand
on the jewel within; whether she stole and broke it, or whether
the lid shut again with a snap on her fingers, read on, and you
It happened that I came one day to give a lesson when I was
indisposed; I had a bad cold and a cough; two hours' incessant
talking left me very hoarse and tired; as I quitted the
schoolroom, and was passing along the corridor, I met Mdlle.
Reuter; she remarked, with an anxious air, that I looked very
pale and tired. "Yes," I said, "I was fatigued;" and then, with
increased interest, she rejoined, "You shall not go away till you
have had some refreshment." She persuaded me to step into the
parlour, and was very kind and gentle while I stayed. The next
day she was kinder still; she came herself into the class to see
that the windows were closed, and that there was no draught; she
exhorted me with friendly earnestness not to over-exert myself;
when I went away, she gave me her hand unasked, and I could not
but mark, by a respectful and gentle pressure, that I was
sensible of the favour, and grateful for it. My modest
demonstration kindled a little merry smile on her countenance; I
thought her almost charming. During the remainder of the
evening, my mind was full of impatience for the afternoon of the
next day to arrive, that I might see her again.
I was not disappointed, for she sat in the class during the whole
of my subsequent lesson, and often looked at me almost with
affection. At four o'clock she accompanied me out of the
schoolroom, asking with solicitude after my health, then scolding
me sweetly because I spoke too loud and gave myself too much
trouble; I stopped at the glass-door which led into the garden,
to hear her lecture to the end; the door was open, it was a very
fine day, and while I listened to the soothing reprimand, I
looked at the sunshine and flowers, and felt very happy. The
day-scholars began to pour from the schoolrooms into the passage.
"Will you go into the garden a minute or two," asked she, "till
they are gone?"
I descended the steps without answering, but I looked back as
much as to say--
"You will come with me?"
In another minute I and the directress were walking side by side
down the alley bordered with fruit-trees, whose white blossoms
were then in full blow as well as their tender green leaves. The
sky was blue, the air still, the May afternoon was full of
brightness and fragrance. Released from the stifling class,
surrounded with flowers and foliage, with a pleasing, smiling,
affable woman at my side--how did I feel? Why, very enviably.
It seemed as if the romantic visions my imagination had suggested
of this garden, while it was yet hidden from me by the jealous
boards, were more than realized; and, when a turn in the alley
shut out the view of the house, and some tall shrubs excluded M.
Pelet's mansion, and screened us momentarily from the other
houses, rising amphitheatre-like round this green spot, I gave my
arm to Mdlle. Reuter, and led her to a garden-chair, nestled
under some lilacs near. She sat down; I took my place at her
side. She went on talking to me with that ease which
communicates ease, and, as I listened, a revelation dawned in my
mind that I was on the brink of falling in love. The dinner-bell
rang, both at her house and M. Pelet's; we were obliged to part;
I detained her a moment as she was moving away.
"I want something," said I.
"What?" asked Zoraide naively.
"Only a flower."
"Gather it then--or two, or twenty, if you like."
"No--one will do-but you must gather it, and give it to me."
"What a caprice!" she exclaimed, but she raised herself on her
tip-toes, and, plucking a beautiful branch of lilac, offered it
to me with grace. I took it, and went away, satisfied for the
present, and hopeful for the future.
Certainly that May day was a lovely one, and it closed in
moonlight night of summer warmth and serenity. I remember this
well; for, having sat up late that evening, correcting devoirs,
and feeling weary and a little oppressed with the closeness of my
small room, I opened the often-mentioned boarded window, whose
boards, however, I had persuaded old Madame Pelet to have removed
since I had filled the post of professor in the pensionnat de
demoiselles, as, from that time, it was no longer "inconvenient"
for me to overlook my own pupils at their sports. I sat down in
the window-seat, rested my arm on the sill, and leaned out:
above me was the clear-obscure of a cloudless night sky
--splendid moonlight subdued the tremulous sparkle of the stars
--below lay the garden, varied with silvery lustre and deep
shade, and all fresh with dew--a grateful perfume exhaled from
the closed blossoms of the fruit-trees--not a leaf stirred, the
night was breezeless. My window looked directly down upon a
certain walk of Mdlle. Reuter's garden, called "l'allee
defendue," so named because the pupils were forbidden to enter it
on account of its proximity to the boys' school. It was here
that the lilacs and laburnums grew especially thick; this was the
most sheltered nook in the enclosure, its shrubs screened the
garden-chair where that afternoon I had sat with the young
directress. I need not say that my thoughts were chiefly with her
as I leaned from the lattice, and let my; eye roam, now over the
walks and borders of the garden, now along the many-windowed
front of the house which rose white beyond the masses of foliage.
I wondered in what part of the building was situated her
apartment; and a single light, shining through the persiennes of
one croisee, seemed to direct me to it.
"She watches late," thought I, "for it must be now near midnight.
She is a fascinating little woman," I continued in voiceless
soliloquy; "her image forms a pleasant picture in memory; I know
she is not what the world calls pretty--no matter, there is
harmony in her aspect, and I like it; her brown hair, her blue
eye, the freshness of her cheek, the whiteness of her neck, all
suit my taste. Then I respect her talent; the idea of marrying a
doll or a fool was always abhorrent to me: I know that a pretty
doll, a fair fool, might do well enough for the honeymoon; but
when passion cooled, how dreadful to find a lump of wax and wood
laid in my bosom, a half idiot clasped in my arms, and to
remember that I had made of this my equal--nay, my idol--to know
that I must pass the rest of my dreary life with a creature
incapable of understanding what I said, of appreciating what I
thought, or of sympathizing with what I felt! "Now, Zoraide
Reuter," thought I, "has tact, CARACTERE, judgment, discretion;
has she heart? What a good, simple little smile played about her
lips when she gave me the branch of lilacs! I have thought her
crafty, dissembling, interested sometimes, it is true; but may
not much that looks like cunning and dissimulation in her conduct
be only the efforts made by a bland temper to traverse quietly
perplexing difficulties? And as to interest, she wishes to make
her way in the world, no doubt, and who can blame her? Even if
she be truly deficient in sound principle, is it not rather her
misfortune than her fault? She has been brought up a Catholic:
had she been born an Englishwoman, and reared a Protestant, might
she not have added straight integrity to all her other
excellences? Supposing she were to marry an English and
Protestant husband, would she not, rational, sensible as she is,
quickly acknowledge the superiority of right over expediency,
honesty over policy? It would be worth a man's while to try the
experiment; to-morrow I will renew my observations. She knows
that I watch her: how calm she is under scrutiny! it seems rather
to gratify than annoy her." Here a strain of music stole in upon
my monologue, and suspended it; it was a bugle, very skilfully
played, in the neighbourhood of the park, I thought, or on the
Place Royale. So sweet were the tones, so subduing their effect
at that hour, in the midst of silence and under the quiet reign
of moonlight, I ceased to think, that I might listen more
intently. The strain retreated, its sound waxed fainter and was
soon gone; my ear prepared to repose on the absolute hush of
midnight once more. No. What murmur was that which, low, and
yet near and approaching nearer, frustrated the expectation of
total silence? It was some one conversing--yes, evidently, an
audible, though subdued voice spoke in the garden immediately